Updated: Nov 14, 2020
By Barry Wilkins.
The passage in Daniel 9 about the seventy times seven ‘years’ is one of the most controversial in the Bible according to the mass of opinions about it among theologians and commentators. Daniel has been confessing and repenting on behalf of the people of God (the Israelites). He has been ‘pleading for Grace’: This ‘grace, please’ word occurs five times in this chapter.
The angel Gabriel says to Daniel that he must think beyond the 70 years of the exile and look towards the long-term future for God to work out His purposes for God’s people, but eventually, Daniel’s prayer will have a full answer. Yes, Gabriel declares that the city of Jerusalem, and its temple where God’s Name dwells, shall be rebuilt. But a greater gracing will occur at a distant time beyond this, and it shall be for the whole world.
Daniel 9:24 ‘Seventy sevens [i.e. a long time beyond when Daniel is thinking] are decreed about your people and your holy city;
to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, [bring it to fulfilment] to anoint a holy of holies.’
The three ‘sin’ words here occur together frequently in the Old Testament.
E.g. in Psalm 32:1,2 David declares that his transgression, sin and iniquity are ‘covered’ and ‘forgiven’. Job says likewise in Job 14:17. Transgression means wilful, defiant rebellion; sin means falling short, failing or missing the mark; iniquity means something like twisted perversion.
But God is going to atone for, and put an end to, this whole gamut of sinfulness. ‘Atone’ means to become ‘at one’ or reconciled with God. In the OT, the lid of the ark of the covenant, in the ‘holy of holies’ in the temple, is called the ‘mercy seat’ or ‘atonement cover’ whence God dispenses forgiveness. In the NT Jesus becomes the new temple and the holy of holies. It is by his sacrifice that our sin is atoned for (we become at one with God). At the end of this age, determined by God, sin will end. And the end of sin will bring in everlasting righteousness. Jesus claims himself to be the one who accomplishes all this. At his baptism by John, Jesus identifies himself with all humanity:
Matthew 3:13-17, Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold a voice from heaven said “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”
Note: although ‘atonement’ does not occur in the NT (except once in William Tyndale’s translation, Romans 5:11,* usually rendered ‘reconciliation’), St Paul uses ‘propitiation’ (literally ‘appeasement’): Rom 3:24-25 (We) are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
* Romans 5:21 (Tyndale) "Not only so but we also ioye in God by the meanes of oure Lorde Iesus Christ by whom we have receavyd the attonment." Romans 5:21 (ESV) "More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation."